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Final Cut Pro 4

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At a Glance
  • Apple Final Cut Pro 4

Why simply upgrade a program when you can supersize it? That was clearly Apple's thinking when the company upgraded its flagship video-editing application, adding features collected during a two-year technological shopping spree. Final Cut Pro 4 weighs a hefty 15GB spread over four installation DVDs, and the program almost lives up to the hype. It's hugely improved and infinitely more customizable than its predecessor, and it even includes four supplementary applications from Apple—Cinema Tools 2, Compressor, LiveType, and Soundtrack. But like the Final Cut Pro 3 (   ; May 2002) release, this version has its share of problems, which we hope are temporary growing pains.

Strict Requirements, Strange Installation

Final Cut 4 raises the hardware-requirements bar. G3-based machines, even the current iBooks, are out. CPU-speed requirements for the new RT Extreme feature and Soundtrack application start at 500MHz for Power Macs and 667MHz for PowerBooks. For our tests, we used an 867MHz Power Mac G4 and a dual-1.42GHz Power Mac G4, both running OS X 10.2.6 and QuickTime 6.3.

The first time we tried, we couldn't completely install Final Cut 4. As it turns out, you must install Final Cut Pro and the supplementary applications on a drive with OS X 10.2.5 or later on it. This requirement is to be expected. But strangely, if you want to put LiveType's and Soundtrack's additional 14GB of media files on a separate drive or partition, that volume must also include OS X 10.2.5 or later, whether you boot from that system or not. PowerBook users, or anyone strapped for hard-drive space, may want to set up a FireWire drive with OS X 10.2.6 to hold LiveType's and SoundTrack's additional media files.

On the Move from Version 3

We opened most of our Final Cut 3 projects in Final Cut 4 without a hitch, but some things don't make the transition very well. Reference movies generated in Final Cut 3 that aren't self-contained cause immediate crashes when loaded into version 4.

Also, there's no backward compatibility—Final Cut 4 projects won't open in Final Cut 3. This is important to remember if you have a secondary edit system on a G3 machine, for example. If you start your project in Final Cut 4, you'll need to keep it there.

Working with Final Cut Pro 4

Video pros will no doubt applaud the many improvements to the editing experience. In fact, there are so many that we can't mention them all here. But Final Cut 3 users will still feel at home with the interface.

Video editors who use Avid systems have often criticized Final Cut 3 for its unchangeable keyboard shortcuts and lack of other personalization features. But Final Cut 4 changes all that. It allows for full customization of keyboard shortcuts, so Avid editors who switch can now quickly set up Final Cut 4 shortcuts that match Avid's. You can add button shortcuts to any section of Final Cut 4's interface. These improvements make version 4 much easier to adjust.

The flashiest new tool, RT Extreme, lets you view real-time effects that exceed your computer's normal capabilities, by dropping frames and decreasing image quality. RT Extreme is very useful for previewing complex effects and titles in your composition before rendering them. Final Cut 4 also offers an RT Safe mode that limits the number of real-time effects you can view to those that your machine can play at full quality. New to version 4 is the ability to output unrendered real-time effects via FireWire so you can use a professional monitor to keep tabs on your work.

Final Cut 3's inability to capture across time-code breaks is skillfully resolved in version 4. If the program encounters a time-code break during capture, it creates a new clip by default. This fix alone will gratify video editors.

Final Cut 4 can natively remove the Advanced 3:2 Pulldown from Panasonic's DVX100 and DVX900 24p cameras. Unfortunately, the program doesn't natively remove traditional 3:2 pulldown; instead, Cinema Tools 2 does this separately.

Apple completely rebuilt Final Cut 4's audio features. With the appropriate hardware, it can now output as many as eight audio channels during an edit to tape—a very welcome addition. There's also a multichannel mixer that can track your level changes in real time. With these additions, Final Cut Pro finally has some serious tools that will make soundpeople happy.

Final Cut Pro's 3-Way Color Corrector hasn't changed much since version 3, but the new Frame Viewer tool lets you preview your color corrections in a split screen with your previous shot, future shot, and even the current shot (to clearly see changes you've made). This side-by-side comparison makes color matching between scenes much easier.

While they're not high-profile changes, clip ganging, dupe detection, clip merging, autorendering, 10-bit video rendering, and support for DV50 are great additions to the program that raise Final Cut 4 to the next level of professional video software.

Not So Final After All

Final Cut 4's major problem is that it isn't completely stable. During our testing, the program quit spontaneously several times, often when it was capturing and importing footage.

Final Cut 4 is also somewhat unpredictable. For example, the Range Check option (which ensures that video is within broadcast limits) wreaked havoc on our systems. With the option selected, the Viewer and Canvas windows wouldn't update properly, even if we loaded a new clip into the viewer. The title-safe and time-code overlays also didn't work when Range Check was engaged. Even the Title tool, a staple since Final Cut Pro 1, has a new bug: some fonts, such as Times and Arial, are italicized for no reason.

Then there's the issue of XML support. Despite what Apple's Web site says, this feature isn't included in Final Cut 4. When we asked about this, Apple said that XML support with AAF import and export would arrive in an update later this summer.

Macworld's Buying Advice

Final Cut Pro 4 is a marvelous but flawed upgrade. There are hundreds of improvements throughout the program, and even taken on their own, the new bundled applications are amazing. Overall, Final Cut Pro 4 gets high marks, but Apple will need to release a few updates to put on the final polish and work out some kinks.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Multichannel audio-out support
    • Very customizable interface
    • Hundreds of small improvements
    • Fantastic supplementary applications
    • Great real-time–effects abilities


    • Inconvenient installation requirements
    • No XML support
    • Significant bugs
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